One Day at a Time

Submitted into Contest #143 in response to: Start or end your story with a person buying a house plant. ... view prompt

48 comments

Contemporary Fiction Inspirational

“Excuse me, Ma’am, can you help me?” Errol asked the woman wearing a green vest, indicating she was an employee at Spinney’s Gardens. Minutes ago, he had approached two different men asking for help, who were quick to tell him that they did not work there. He was still flushed in mortification from the awkward interactions.


The woman turned from watering purple flowers with a hose and faced Errol, a bead of sweat trickling down her cheek. “Yes, sir?” she asked, wiping her forehead with the back of her gloved hand. Errol could smell the scent of the flowers evaporate from the water into the sunlight. He wondered what kind they were. He wished he could afford to buy some for Nina.


“I’d like to buy a house plant,” Errol said pointing to the various plants displayed on the cart in front of him, “But I don’t know which one to get.” He scratched his head, overwhelmed with the choices on the cart. There were big ones, small ones, twisty ones, frilly ones, waxy ones… How does one choose a house plant for oneself?


The woman placed the hose down and took off her gloves, placing them carefully in the black apron tied around her waist. “What are you looking for? Do you have any other plants in your house?” she asked, eyeing up Errol from top to bottom as a doctor would do at an initial visit with a patient.


“Get a plant,” his sponsor, Damien, had instructed him a few days ago when Errol informed Damien he wanted to ask out Nina from the Friday night meeting.


House plant? Errol had questioned Damien, “No, I want to ask out Nina. I don’t want a house plant.”


“If you can keep a plant alive for one year, you can ask out Nina,” Damien instructed him, “You barely have two months. Slow your roll.”


Feeling the woman’s eyes on him, Errol automatically looked at his feet, his social anxiety beginning to build up inside of him. He didn’t like being questioned and he didn’t like being in public. At least, not without a drink. He wished he could just grab a plant and leave without having to communicate with anyone. But he didn’t want to mess this up.


“No other plants. Just me,” he said as he pretended to inspect a pointy plant in front of him, avoiding eye contact at any cost.


“Okay…” the woman hesitated, wanting to see if Errol would elaborate. “Do you get much sunlight in your house?”


Errol shrugged. He’d never really noticed how much sunlight he got in his apartment. He’d been too drunk to notice, if he were honest with himself.


“You pick whatever you think,” he said. He wanted to leave immediately. He hated making decisions. His decisions never turned out right.


The woman bent down and picked up a large plant in a white pot. “These are the trendiest houseplants right now. Fiddle Leaf Figs. Do you have a large window, but not where the sun’s rays will fall directly on the leaves? An east-facing window?”


Errol raised his eyebrows, “Um, sure, I think it’s east-facing,” he lied. He had no idea which way his apartment faced, or any window faced for that matter, but he didn’t want this woman to think he couldn’t care for this plant. If this is the most popular plant that people are getting, why can’t I care for it too?


“Great,” the woman continued, “You’ll want to water it the same amount each week. For this size, water one cup each week. Once it grows more than two feet tall, water two cups each week. Once it grows to be three to six feet tall, use three cups of water. Never let your plant sit in water, and make sure your container fully drains each time you water.”


“Uh, huh,” Errol pretended that he could remember everything she said about watering the plant. Even my childhood goldfish seemed easier to feed than this. Just a pinch of food every day. No measuring anything out.


“You’re also going to need to prune it regularly to maintain its health. Make sure to use clean, sharp shears to prevent spreading infection and be sure to wear gloves, because the sap can irritate your skin. You may also want to put down a tarp or towels, so the sap doesn’t damage your floor. Do you have wood floors?”


“Wood? Um...I don’t know…” Errol muttered, suddenly completely unaware of the type of flooring he had in his apartment. Was it wood? Carpet? Vinyl?


“Be careful not to remove more than 10% of the leaves at once to avoid sending your tree into shock,” the woman continued.


“Shock?” Errol asked in bewilderment. What kind of Little Shop of Horrors plant is this?


“Yes, you don’t want to over prune,” she directed, holding up the plant closer to Errol.


“Okay…thanks,” he said sluggishly taking the plant from her and holding it in front of him as if it was a newborn with a dirty diaper.


“Any other questions?” she asked, putting her gloves back on and picking up her hose.


Dumbstruck, Errol stared at her, not sure what questions he DIDN’T have, but not wishing this conversation to go on any longer. “No…” he said as he watched her press the lever on the hose and continue to water the purple flowers in front of her, suddenly, not as pretty as they were a few minutes ago.


“Great, good luck!” she shouted over the spraying water.


Errol slowly turned, arms out, holding onto the Fiddle Leaf Fig tightly, trying not to drop his new responsibility.


“Fiddle Leaf Fig…” he whispered to himself as he walked towards the cashier, “What kind of person gets one of these stupid things by choice?”


He had sudden memory of health class his senior year of high school. As their final assignment, the students dressed up a bag of flour in baby clothes and had to care for the bags to see what “real parenting” was like. Errol had put his bag of flour on the back of his dirt bike on the second day and it fell off and burst open. A foreshadowing for my life now; the first of most relationships I’ve ruined.


He walked through the long aisle of flowers and approached the cashier, watching as he rang up a gentleman buying bags of mulch. Errol looked down at the large plant in his hands, its waxy leaves glistening in the light. He glared at it in resentment. An indignant father holding the infant that was preventing him and mommy’s intimacy. 


“Can I help you, sir?” the cashier asked from behind the register.

Errol looked up and approached him, holding the plant awkwardly between arms now shaky from the heavy weight. As he placed the plant down and took out his wallet, his eye caught a display of small, hand sized cacti for sale, five dollars each. Errol picked one up and studied it. A green sphere with little spikes. Simple. Easy.

“It’s not easy, but it’s simple,” Damien had told him a few months ago.


“Actually,” Errol said before the cashier scanned the tag on the Fig. “I’ll get this instead.” He pushed the fig to the side and slid the small cactus in front of him.


Damien never told him what kind of plant he needed to keep alive for a year. Why not set himself up for success rather than failure this time? Progress not perfection.


He walked out of Spinney’s Garden, Cactus in hand with a smile on his face. He’d picked the perfect plant out and felt like this was one thing he could do right without messing up. One day at a time. 

April 26, 2022 23:55

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48 comments

Charlie Murphy
18:18 May 01, 2022

Great story! I liked that he chose the cactus instead. Kinda showed his personality.

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Kathleen Fine
22:52 May 22, 2022

Thanks Charlie!

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Ravi Srivastava
04:17 May 01, 2022

Lovely story, Kathleen. Simple and straight forward depiction of a man who is not sure of himself, of not taking the right decisions. (Aren't most of us like that?). But in the end he accepts what he is and makes the right choice. A great lesson, told well.

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Kathleen Fine
22:52 May 22, 2022

Thank you Ravi!

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18:27 Apr 30, 2022

I love his change of heart at the end of the story, realistically setting himself a simpler goal. I have my doubts whether the fiddle leaf fig would've lasted the week!

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Kathleen Fine
21:49 Apr 30, 2022

Thanks Victoria!

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16:07 Apr 30, 2022

As a former plant murderer, I was overwhelmed by the staff's watering instructions! That plant would have been doomed in my house, haha! Good choice with the cactus switch :) I wrote about a cactus this week, too :) Well done!

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Kathleen Fine
21:50 Apr 30, 2022

Thanks- I have a black thumb when it comes to plants as well! I can’t wait to read your cactus story!

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Michał Przywara
20:48 Apr 28, 2022

Wonderfully uncomfortable! We can feel Errol squirm as he confronts his fears, and it makes us squirm. I like "His decisions never turned out right." Not only does it underscore his attitude towards himself, but it also pairs well with the fact that he's trying to improve, and it beautifully sets up the ending. On that note, great ending! It's pragmatic and hopeful, maybe a new chapter in his life.

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Kathleen Fine
21:50 Apr 30, 2022

Thanks Michal!

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L. Maddison
15:02 Apr 27, 2022

They say owners look like their pets. Maybe we have some things in common with our houseplants too, like Damien.

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Kathleen Fine
21:52 Apr 30, 2022

Thanks L. Maddison!

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02:37 Apr 27, 2022

This is indeed inspirational. The sentence "Progress not perfection." is wonderful. I don't know what to call this story, wholesome comes to mind but doesn't exactly fit. This story's really nice though- I like it. A small light in my day to be honest.

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Kathleen Fine
21:52 Apr 30, 2022

Thank you LEOPRINCE!

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Ruth Reyes
11:33 May 06, 2022

It was a wise choice for Errol. Great story!

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Kathleen Fine
22:53 May 22, 2022

Thanks Ruth!

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02:20 May 06, 2022

Nice story Kathleen. It was clear, concise, and an enjoyable read.

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Kathleen Fine
22:53 May 22, 2022

Thank you Clara!

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20:29 May 03, 2022

Such a sweet story. This guy is so shy! I am glad he chose the cactus. He would have murdered any other plant. He would have watered it to death.

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Kathleen Fine
22:53 May 22, 2022

Thanks Kathryn!

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19:11 May 03, 2022

The poor young man. You don't start with a plant that finicky, I agree. Cacti are a good, sensible start ;D I loved the dialogue and how you described his discomfort talking to that knowledgeable nursery worker. Men talking about plants? Please! :) I think Damien is a very wise guy, however. Good relationship advice. If you can keep a plant alive for a year, you can keep a relationship alive as well. I love the woman-plant comparison. Flattering.

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Kathleen Fine
22:53 May 22, 2022

Thanks Gabriela!

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Faith Ogedegbe
07:22 May 03, 2022

Nice write-up.

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Kathleen Fine
22:53 May 22, 2022

Thank you Faith!

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05:44 May 03, 2022

Nice writing;) I had the same idea for this week. Learning to take care of a plant before taking care of others was one of the most memorable recovery memes i remember from a long time ago. I really liked the way you described in detail how hard it is to take care of the plant before the twist at the end! I don't recall if anyone ever mentioned if they went through the full 12 months of plant sitting or not but it was definitely a good metaphor and learning process for many.

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Kathleen Fine
22:53 May 22, 2022

Thank you Scott!

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Felice Noelle
17:20 May 02, 2022

Kathleen: I saw that you had read my last story, about the cloud gazer. If you have the time and the inclination, I would appreciate your critique because I like your stories and value your opinion. I have been writing two stories lately to try and see what seems to connect with people. Likes only go so far in giving information. I really need to know from someone what works and what does not....at least for them I would so appreciate your opinion. In the meantime, here's another like and comment. I already follow you.. Thanks. Ma...

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Szal V
16:57 May 02, 2022

Good for you, Errol: One day at a time, my friend. Charming story!

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Kathleen Fine
22:54 May 22, 2022

Thank you Szal!

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L.M. Lydon
15:20 May 02, 2022

I was intimidated myself listening to the woman's directions about how to care for the first plant (having overwatered bamboo once in my own life)! The narrator made a wise choice! I enjoyed reading this story!

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Kathleen Fine
22:54 May 22, 2022

Thank you LM!

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Kevin Broccoli
02:58 May 02, 2022

I loved this! Such a great Sunday read.

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Kathleen Fine
22:54 May 22, 2022

Thanks Kevin!

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Michael Danyluk
02:29 May 02, 2022

The ending is funny, I liked it. Some of the stuff is a bit over the top towards alcoholism, but It's a cool you tried something different.

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Kathleen Fine
22:54 May 22, 2022

Thanks Michael!

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Lily Saylor
03:32 May 01, 2022

I really enjoyed the simple but poignant storytelling of this piece, and I liked what you did with the prompt. I liked how the character was developed and how in the end, he made his own decision and got the plant that he wanted. Good job:)

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Kathleen Fine
22:54 May 22, 2022

Thank you Lily!

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Felice Noelle
23:02 Apr 30, 2022

Kathleen: Such an insightful piece. I really enjoyed reading it as you related the insecurity and anxiety of the MC. In the paragraph seventh from the end, did you intimate that his background involved him blaming himself as he is blamed for trouble in his family? I especially like the comment about the Little Shop of Horrors. This was a simple, straight forward, human story with some nuanced meanings. Your treatment turned the simple selection of a houseplant a psychological study of sorts. A great rea d. Maureen

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Kathleen Fine
22:54 May 22, 2022

Thanks Maureen!

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